Tag: songs

Strange Fruit by Gary Golio

strange-fruit-by-gary-golio

Strange Fruit: Billie Holiday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio, illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb

Billie Holiday had survived a rough childhood that saw her jailed at age 14 and become a successful jazz singer. Despite her success though, she was still forbidden to do things that her white band members were allowed. She had to hide in rooms, take freight elevators and pretend to be someone different in order to stay in hotels and not sleep on the tour bus. This was all dangerous and eventually she quit. She found a new place to sing in Cafe Society, the first jazz club that welcomed African-American audience members. It was there that she was given the song, Strange Fruit, a song that would become her best-known work. A song that was so powerful that it was met with silence the first time she sang it. A song that would come to speak to a new generation as they stand together today.

Golio has taken a song that is about lynching and turned it into a picture book. It’s a daring subject for a book for young readers, yet he makes it entirely understandable. He uses notes at the end of the book to continue Holiday’s story and also speak about lynching and its history in the United States. The bulk of the picture book is about Holiday’s struggles in the 1930s with pervasive racism and the way that this song spoke to her personal experience and that of all African-Americans.

The illustrations are deep and powerful. They show the pain of racism, the power of song, the energy of a performance and the drama of silence and darkness. Done in acrylic paint and tissue collage, they have a wild freedom of line that works well with the intense subject matter.

An important picture book about a song that has transcended generations and speaks to the struggles of today and yesterday. Appropriate for ages 7-11.

Reviewed from e-galley received from NetGalley and Lerner Publishing Group.

Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout by Patricia C. McKissack

lets-clap-jump-sing-and-shout-by-patricia-c-mckissack

Let’s Clap, Jump, Sing & Shout; Dance, Spin & Turn It Out!: Games, Songs & Stories from an African American Childhood by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (9780375870880)

What a way to celebrate Black History Month! With plenty of games, songs, poems and stories, this volume happily combines them all into a delightful rhythm of rhymes, clapping and singing. While the book focuses on games and songs from an African-American background, children of various backgrounds will find new and familiar games on the pages. This mix of discovery and warm familiarity makes this a book that both invites exploration and gives everyone a place to stop and smile in recognition.

This book is almost an encyclopedia of games and songs. Page after page will have readers humming along, singing aloud and looking for a partner to play a newfound or best-loved game. The poetry section adds a real richness to the book, allowing it to slow from the fast pace of the games and songs. McKissack introduces each game, song or poem with a short paragraph about it. This creates a book that is far more than one game after another, adding historical information too.

Pinkney’s illustrations are pure movement on the page. They dance and swirl and tilt and play. Sweeps of color embrace the ink drawings, adding even more motion to the page. There’s a feeling of freedom in the illustrations, a playful wildness that is pure refreshment to the eye.

A book for every public library, this is a must-have. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Random House Children’s Books.

The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk by Kabir Sehgal

The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk by Kabir Sehgal

The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk by Kabir Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal, illustrated by Jess Golden (InfoSoup)

This picture book puts an Eastern Indian twist on The Wheels on the Bus rhyme. Here it’s the tuk tuk taxi’s wheels that go round and round instead. The picture book captures the hustle and bustle of a city in India with people getting on and off the tuk tuk, rupees going ching ching as payments are made, and people having to squish in together.The tuk tuk stops for cows in the road and also for a drink of chai for the driver. There are spraying elephants and then the trip ends with Diwali fireworks in the sky. It’s a merry and dynamic ride that pays homage to the original while being uniquely its own story.

It is the energy of this book that makes it so much fun. The setting is captured in small moments that make sure that readers know that they are somewhere specific and exceptional. The rhyme retains its dynamic pace with the tuk tuk filling with passengers of all ages as the book moves along the streets of India.

The illustrations in the book are bright and cheery. They show busy streets with monkeys, cows, goats and more. Good food appears like steaming chai and poppadoms and then is happily shared with one another.

A superb look at another culture through a familiar preschool rhyme, this picture book invites readers along for a ride of a different sort. Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Four Merry Christmas Books

It’s a great year for Christmas books, and I have four top choices for your holiday reading pleasure:

first christmas

The First Christmas by Jan Pienkowski

With text from the King James version of the Bible, this picture book tells the nativity story with stateliness and words that will be familiar to many.  The great joy of the book is the silhouette illustrations by Pienkowski who has created images that glow on the page.  She combines her black silhouettes with colors that shift and seem to be lit from behind.  Her detailed cut paper art is awe-inspiring and adds just the right touch of wonder to the story of the birth of Jesus.  Recommended for all ages. 

Reviewed from e-galley received from Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

manger

Manger selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Helen Cann

On Christmas Eve at midnight the animals are given the gift of being able to speak.  The poems in this book tell what each of the animals would say during the nativity about what they witnessed and how they contributed.  Hopkins has compiled a collections of poems from a dozen poets.  The collection ranges in styles and lengths but is also cohesive and the differences in the poems creates a variety that adds freshness. 

Cann’s illustrations are lovely with rich colors and fine details.  They show the animals clearly and also the wonder of the nativity on each page whether they are fish, fowl or mammal.  The poems range from very serious approaches to ones that are gently humorous but they are all done with great respect and honor the reason Christmas exists.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Eerdmans.

santa clauses

Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka, illustrated by Chuck Groenink

Santa tells his own story of Christmas in these 25 short haiku poems that offer a glimpse into what goes into making Christmas happen.  From the joy of snow to the seasonal chores like fixing Christmas lights, readers will see their own holiday preparations in Santa’s world too.  But there are also things that are just in Santa’s world like the many letters from children, hard-working elves, reading stories to the reindeer and finally flying off to deliver presents. 

These poems are cleverly done, often showing the beauty of the winter season just as much as they are celebrating the Christmas holiday.  The mix of natural beauty with Christmas makes the book rich and a holiday treat to share.  The illustrations too show the wonder of nature on the page alongside the bustle of the holiday season.  It is the quiet snowy scenes and the small special moments that make the strongest impressions both in poem and art.  Appropriate for ages 4-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

12 days of christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas illustrated by LeUyen Pham

The traditional holiday carol is told in a warm new rendition with illustrations that are traditional but also very funny.  The carol is unaltered in this picture book that shows what happens as the various gifts arrive.  Though in the first pages it seems to be a book that will stack and pile the huge number of gifts on each page, this book is more subtle about things and therefore more successful.  Instead it is a delightful mix of diversity, different cultures and the joy of the season.  It turns out this is a modern and fresh take on the carol sure to spread joy.  Appropriate for ages 4-9.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Doubleday Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

Review: Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown

goodnight songs

Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown

A new collection of previously unpublished poems from the master Margaret Wise Brown are illustrated here by twelve different illustrators.  According to the introduction by Amy Gary, the editor of the Margaret Wise Brown Estate, these poems were part of a trunk of unpublished manuscripts that Margaret’s sister had in her barn.  They reflect the interest that Margaret developed towards the end of her life in creating music for children.  The book is accompanied by a music CD that brings the poems into song.  This book is just as enjoyable as a song book or a poetry book, make sure to try it out both ways!

Brown’s poems are simple and lovely.  Some of them read like nursery rhymes with plenty of repetition of phrase and style.  Others are a bit looser but still musical even as words.  She created small worlds in each song, offering lovely gems of moments in each one.  I have a handful of top favorites from the book:  “The Mouse’s Prayer” which is a beautiful wintry poem, “Wooden Town” that evokes a childhood joy of creating a little world of blocks, and “The Secret Song” which is a question and answer poem that is quiet and lonely.

The twelve illustrators make up some of the top illustrators in today’s picture books.  There is a great pleasure in turning the page and seeing an entirely different feel with the next poem.  Some are bright and sunny, others deep colored like the night, and still others filled with snow.  The styles reflect each of the illustrators and as a whole the book works extremely well, giving each poem a distinct note of its own on the page.

A top pick for children’s poetry, these songs are a dazzling collection from a very talented writer.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: May the Stars Drip Down by Jeremy Chatelain

may the stars drip down

May the Stars Drip Down by Jeremy Chatelain, illustrated by Nikki McClure

Quiet and lovely, this is a picture book version of the lullaby by indie rock band Cub Country.   That song is haunting and beautiful with its slow pace.  This book is much the same.  The lyrics to the song read as a poem on the page, one that takes a child on a journey of dreams before returning back home again.  It is a book designed for reading at bedtime in the same soothing pace as the song. 

McClure’s cut paper art adds to the beauty of the book.  Done entirely in blues and whites, the book invites children to twilight and darkness.  Throughout the book the night is celebrated in its beauty, from the moon on the sea to the the owl winging past.  There is a sense both in the poem and the art that you are seeing into the secrets of the evening.

A gorgeous new version of a song, this book is ideal for bedtime reading and dreaming.  Appropriate for ages 2-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Abrams Books.